James Joyce

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James Augustine Aloysius Joyce
Irish novelist, short-story writer and poet
"Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an aesthetic end."
Born 2 February 1882
Rathgar, Dublin, Ireland
Died 13 January 1941
Zürich, Switzerland

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (February 2, 1882January 13, 1941) was an expatriate Irish writer and poet, widely considered a significant writer of the 20th century. He is best known for his short story collection Dubliners (1914), and his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939).

Although most of his adult life was spent outside the country, Joyce's Irish experiences are essential to his writings and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. His fictional universe is firmly rooted in Dublin and reflects his family life and the events and friends (and enemies) from his school and college days. In this, he became both one of the most cosmopolitan and one of the most local of all the great English language modernists.


Early Life and Writings

James Joyce was born into a well-off Catholic family in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar. He was the eldest surviving child; two of his siblings died of typhoid. His father's family, originally from Cork, were wealthy merchants. In 1887, his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was appointed rate collector by Dublin Corporation; the family subsequently moved to the fashionable new suburb of Bray.

In 1891, James wrote a poem, Et Tu Healy, on the death of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father had it printed and even sent a copy to the Vatican Library. In November of that same year, John Joyce was entered in Stubbs Gazette (an official register of bankruptcies) and suspended from work. In 1893 John Joyce was dismissed with a pension. This was the beginning of a slide into poverty for the family, mainly due to John's drinking and general financial mismanagement. The character of Stephen Daedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, is based on James Joyce himself.

James Joyce was initially educated at Clongowes Wood College, a boarding school in County Kildare, which he entered in 1888 but had to leave in 1892 when his father could no longer pay the fees. Joyce then studied at home and briefly at the Christian Brothers school on North Richmond Street before he was offered a place in the Jesuits' Dublin school, Belvedere College, in 1893. The offer was made at least partly in the hope that he would prove to have a vocation and join the Jesuits himself. Joyce, however, would reject Catholicism by the age of 16, although the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas would remain a strong influence on him throughout his life.

He enrolled at University College Dublin in 1898. He studied modern languages, specifically English, French and Italian. He also became active in theatrical and literary circles in the city. His review of Ibsen's New Drama was published in 1900 and resulted in a letter of thanks from the Norwegian dramatist himself. Joyce wrote a number of other articles and at least two plays (since lost) during this period. Many of the friends he made at University College would appear as characters in Joyce's written works.

After graduating from UCD, Joyce left for Paris; ostensibly to study medicine, but in reality he squandered money his family could ill afford. He returned to Ireland after a few months, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. After she died he began to drink heavily, and conditions at home grew quite appalling. He scraped a living reviewing books, teaching and singing. The following January he wrote A Portrait of the Artist, an essay-story dealing with aesthetics, in a day, only to have it rejected from the free-thinking magazine Dana. He decided, on his twenty-second birthday, to revise the story and turn it into a novel he planned to call Stephen Hero. The same year he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Connemara, County Galway who was working as a chambermaid. On June 16, 1904, they went on their first date, an event which would be commemorated by providing the date for the action of Ulysses. Joyce remained in Dublin for some time longer, drinking heavily. He took up with medical student Oliver St John Gogarty, who formed the basis for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. After staying in Gogarty's Martello Tower for six nights he left following an altercation, got drunk in a brothel and got into a fight, from which he was rescued by his father's acquaintance, Alfred Hunter, an Irish Jew who provided the model for Leopold Bloom, who is one of the protagonists of Ulysses.

Shortly thereafter he eloped with Nora. The pair went into self-imposed exile, moving first to Pola, to teach English at the Biarritz School, and then to Trieste in Austria-Hungary, where he would spend a total of sixteen years. One of his students in Trieste was Ettore Schmitz, better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo; they met in 1907 and became lasting friends and mutual critics. Joyce would spend most of the rest of his life on the Continent. In 1915 he moved to Zurich, and returned to Paris in 1920 where, apart from two visits to Ireland, he remained for the next twenty years. He returned to Zurich only shortly before his death. In Paris, Maria and Eugene Jolas nursed Joyce during his long years of writing Finnegans Wake. Were it not for their unwavering support, there is a good possibility the book might never have been finished or published. In their now legendary literary magazine "transition," the Jolases published serially various sections of Joyce's novel under the title Work in Progress.

Major Works


Joyce's Irish experiences are essential to his writings, and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. The early volume of short stories, Dubliners, is a penetrating analysis of the stagnation and paralysis of Dublin society. The stories incorporate epiphanies, a word used particularly by Joyce, by which he meant a sudden consciousness of the "soul" of a thing. Although many of Joyce's works illustrate the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, his short story "Araby" displays his disaffection and loss of faith with the Church. The final and most famous story in the collection, "The Dead", was directed by John Huston as his last feature film, completed in 1987.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a nearly complete rewrite of the abandoned Stephen Hero novel. It is largely autobiographical, showing the process of attaining maturity and self-consciousness by a gifted young man. The main character is Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's representation of himself. In this novel, some glimpses of Joyce's later techniques are evident, in the use of interior monologue and in the concern with the psychic rather than external reality. Joseph Strick directed a film of the book in 1977 starring Luke Johnston, Bosco Hogan, T.P. McKenna and John Gielgud.

Exiles and poetry

Despite early interest in the theatre, Joyce published only one play, Exiles, begun shortly after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and published in 1918. A study of a husband and wife relationship, the play looks back to The Dead (the final story in Dubliners) and forward to Ulysses, which was begun around the time of the play's composition.

Joyce also published a number of books of poetry. His first mature published work was the satirical broadside The Holy Office (1904), in which he proclaimed himself to be the superior of many prominent members of the Celtic revival. His first full-length poetry collection Chamber Music (named after the sound of urine hitting the side of a chamber pot) consisted of 36 short lyrics. This publication led to his inclusion in the Imagist Anthology, edited by Ezra Pound, who was a champion of Joyce's work. The other poetry Joyce published in his lifetime consists of Gas From A Burner (1912), Pomes Penyeach (1927) and Ecce Puer, written in 1932 to mark the birth of his grandson and the recent death of his father. It was published in Collected Poems (1936).


In 1906, as he was completing work on Dubliners, Joyce considered adding another story featuring a Jewish advertising canvasser called Leopold Bloom under the title Ulysses. The story was not written, but the idea stayed with Joyce and, in 1914, he started work on a novel using both the title and basic premise, completing the writing in October, 1921. It was to be another three months before Joyce would stop working on the proofs of the book; he halted on the cusp of his self-imposed deadline, his 40th birthday (February 2, 1922).

Thanks to Ezra Pound, serial publication of the novel in the magazine The Little Review began in 1918. This magazine was edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, with the backing of John Quinn, a New York attorney with an interest in contemporary experimental art and literature. Unfortunately, this serialisation ran into censorship problems in the United States, and in 1920 the editors were convicted of publishing obscenity, resulting in an end to the serial publication of the novel. The novel remained banned in the States until 1933.

At least partly because of this controversy, Joyce found it difficult to get a publisher to accept the book, but it was published in 1922 by Sylvia Beach from her well-known Left Bank bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. An English edition published the same year by Joyce's patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, ran into further difficulties with the United States authorities, and 500 copies that were shipped to the States were seized and possibly destroyed. The following year, John Rodker produced a print run of 500 more intended to replace the missing copies, but these were burned by English customs at Folkestone. A further consequence of the novel's ambiguous legal status as a banned book was that a number of 'bootleg' versions appeared, most notably a number of pirate versions from the publisher Samuel Roth. In 1928, a court injunction against Roth was obtained and he ceased publication.

1922 was a key year in the history of English-language literary modernism, with the appearance of both Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land. In Ulysses, Joyce employs stream of consciousness, parody, jokes, and virtually every other literary technique to present his characters. The action of the novel, which takes place in a single day, June 16, 1904, sets the characters and incidents of the Odyssey of Homer in modern Dublin and represents Odysseus (Ulysses), Penelope and Telemachus in the characters of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, parodically contrasted with their lofty models. The book explores various areas of Dublin life, dwelling on its squalor and monotony. Nevertheless, the book is also an affectionately detailed study of the city, and Joyce claimed that if Dublin were to be destroyed in some catastrophe it could be rebuilt, brick by brick, using his work as a model. In order to achieve this level of accuracy, Joyce used the 1904 edition of Thom's Directory— a work that listed the owners and/or tenants of every residential and commercial property in the city. He also bombarded friends still living there with requests for information and clarification.

The book consists of 18 chapters, each covering roughly one hour of the day, beginning around about 8 a.m. and ending sometime after 2 a.m. the following morning. Each of the 18 chapters of the novel employs its own literary style. Each chapter also refers to a specific episode in Homer's Odyssey and has a specific colour, art or science and bodily organ associated with it. This combination of kaleidoscopic writing with an extreme formal, schematic structure represents one of the book's major contributions to the development of 20th century modernist literature. The use of classical mythology as a framework for his book and the near-obsessive focus on external detail in a book in which much of the significant action is happening inside the minds of the characters are others. Nevertheless, Joyce complained that, "I may have oversystematised Ulysses," and played down the mythic correspondences by eliminating the chapter titles that had been taken from Homer.

Joseph Strick directed a film of the book in 1967 starring Milo O'Shea, Barbara Jefford and Maurice Roëves. Sean Walsh directed another version released in 2004 starring Stephen Rea, Angeline Ball and Hugh O'Conor.

Finnegans Wake

Having completed work on Ulysses, Joyce appears to have suffered from a period of writer's block. On March 10, 1923 he began work on a text that was to be known, first, as Work in Progress and later Finnegans Wake. By 1926 he had completed the first two parts of the book. In that year, he met Eugene and Maria Jolas who offered to serialise the book in their magazine transition. For the next few years, Joyce worked rapidly on the new book, but in the 1930s, progress slowed considerably. This was due to a number of factors, including the death of his father in 1931, concern over the mental health of his daughter Lucia and his own health problems, including failing eyesight. Much of the work was done with the assistance of younger admirers, including Samuel Beckett. For some years, Joyce nursed the eccentric plan of turning over the book to his friend James Stephens to complete, on the grounds that Stephens was born in the same hospital as Joyce exactly one week later, and shared the first name of both Joyce and of Joyce's fictional alter-ego (this is one example of Joyce's numerous superstitions).

Reaction to the early sections that appeared in transition was mixed, including negative comment from early supporters of Joyce's work, such as Pound and the author's brother Stanislaus Joyce. In order to counteract this hostile reception, a book of essays by supporters of the new work, including Beckett, William Carlos Williams and others was organised and published in 1929 under the title Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. At his 47th birthday party at the Jolases' home, Joyce revealed the final title of the work and Finnegans Wake was published in book form on May 4, 1939.

Joyce's method of stream of consciousness, literary allusions and free dream associations was pushed to the limit in Finnegans Wake, which abandoned all conventions of plot and character construction and is written in a peculiar and obscure language, based mainly on complex multi-level puns. This approach is similar to, but far more extensive than that used by Lewis Carroll in "Jabberwocky". If Ulysses is a day in the life of a city, the Wake is a night and partakes of the logic of dreams. This has led many readers and critics to apply Joyce's oft-quoted description in the Wake of Ulysses as his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles to the Wake itself. However, readers have been able to reach a consensus about the central cast of characters and general plot.

Much of the wordplay in the book stems from the use of multilingual puns which draw on a wide range of languages. The role played by Beckett and other assistants included collating words from these languages on cards for Joyce to use and, as Joyce's eyesight worsened, of writing the text from the author's dictation.

The view of history propounded in this text is very strongly influenced by Giambattista Vico, and the metaphysics of Giordano Bruno of Nola are important to the interplay of the "characters". Vico propounded a cyclical view of history, in which civilisation rose from chaos, passed through theocratic, aristocratic, and democratic phases, and then lapsed back into chaos. The most obvious example of the influence of Vico's cyclical theory of history is to be found in the opening and closing sentences of the book. Finnegans Wake opens with the words 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.' (with a pun on Vico in 'vicus') and ends 'A way a lone a last a loved a long the'. In other words, the first sentence starts on the last page and the last sentence on the first, turning the book into one great cycle. Indeed, Joyce said that the ideal reader of the Wake would suffer from ideal insomnia and, on completing the book, would turn to page one and start again, and so on in an endless cycle of reading.

Joyce's Legacy

A bust of James Joyce in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin
A bust of James Joyce in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Joyce was forced to leave Paris and returned to Zurich, where he died at the age of 58. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery in that city, together with Nora, whom he had married in London in 1931. Joyce's work has been subject to intense scrutiny by scholars of all types. He has also been an important influence on writers as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O'Brien, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, and many more.

Joyce's influence is also evident in fields other than literature. The phrase "Three Quarks for Muster Mark" in Joyce's Finnegans Wake is often called the source of the physicists' word "quark", the name of one of the main kinds of elementary particles, proposed by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann. (James Gleick's book Genius notes that Gell-Mann may have found the Joycean antecedent after the fact; as Gleick observes, physicists have pronounced quark to rhyme with cork and not with Mark. It may be noted, however, against Gleick's speculation, that the discoverers of quarks were Americans who would have pronounced quark in the American, not the Irish accent.) The French philosopher Jacques Derrida has written a book on the use of language in Ulysses, and the American philosopher Donald Davidson has written similarly on Finnegans Wake in comparison with Lewis Carroll. Vladimir Nabokov esteemed Ulysses greatly, listing it with Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" as one of the 20th century's greatest prose works. However, Nabokov was less than thrilled with Finnegans Wake (see Strong Opinions, The Annotated Lolita or Pale Fire), an attitude which Jorge Luis Borges shared.

Finnegans Wake is a recurring theme in Tom Robbins's novel Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. In that novel, it is the favourite discussion topic of the Bangkok-based "C.R.A.F.T. Club" (Can't Remember A Fucking Thing). The protagonist, a CIA agent named Switters, contemplates writing a thesis about it. The life of Joyce is celebrated annually on June 16, Bloomsday, in Dublin and in an increasing number of cities worldwide.



General (print)

  • Burgess, Anthony. Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce (1973)
  • ---Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (1965); also published as Re Joyce.
  • Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1959, revised edition 1983.
  • Igoe, Vivien. A Literary Guide to Dublin. ISBN 0-4136912-0-9
  • Levin, Harry (ed. with introduction and notes). The Essential James Joyce. Cape, 1948. Revised edition Penguin in association with Jonathan Cape, 1963.
  • Quillian, William H. Hamlet and the new poetic: James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983.
  • Read, Forrest. Pound/Joyce: The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, with Pound's Essays on Joyce. New Directions, 1967.

General (web)



Finnegans Wake (print)

  • Beckett, Samuel; William Carlos Williams; et al. Our Exagmination Round His Factification For Incamination Of Work In Progress. Shakespeare and Company, 1929.
  • Burgess, Anthony (ed.) A Shorter 'Finnegans Wake', 1969.
  • Campbell, Joseph and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake, 1961.
  • McHugh, Roland. Annotations to Finnegans Wake. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
  • Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake. Syracuse University Press, 1996 (First published 1969).

Finnegans Wake (web)

Poems and Exiles

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